Aurlandsdalen: hiking in Norway’s Grand Canyon

Described as one of Norway’s Classic Hikes, the trek through Aurlandsdalen was high up on our list when booking a trip to Norway. We were here in the first week in June, pretty early in the trekking season, meaning quiet trails but lots of snow and mostly closed tracks. Luckily the lowest part of this 40 km hike was possible to do, and left us speechless from start to end.

The best part of the hike (from hear say) is the last part, the one that leads from Østerbro to Vassbygdi. It’s rated as a medium difficult trip and should take about 6 hours. First piece of advice: don’t walk on a national holiday. We were told by various sources that buses to get you to the start, would drive as on a Sunday but upon arrival at the bus stop, some Norwegians told us that the bus wouldn’t be coming that day. As we were with a group of 7, we decided to share a taxi, a pretty expensive idea but necessary to get up to  Østerbro. Eventually we talked the price fown to NOK 150 per person, almost the same as the bus would have been.

aurlandsdalen-signpost vassbygdi-2

Upon arrival in Østerbro we were pretty amazed. The landscape is simply gorgeous; we have obviously left the fjords behind and have arrived in interior Norway.  In the past, the Aurlandsdalen route was used as a way of transportation for the farmers that made their living in this valley. However all farms that used to be here are now abandoned, making it a historical trek as well since many of them are still there…

The first part of the walk is very easy, through a wide valley and following the river downstream. There are a couple of stream crossings that are easily done by stepping stones and after about an hour, the canyon walls grow closer and become very narrow. Eventually you leave the river and hike to half way up the wall. Here you can decide to take the difficult Bjonnstigen that is for experienced hikers only, or you can decide to follow the trail along the river. As there was a signpost advising us to follow the river because rockfall had damaged the upper trail and it wasn’t safe, we decided to take the easy route… good reason to come back one day!

aurlandsdalen-view aurlandsdalen-collag

The path gradually winds up and down, sometimes high above the river, sometimes next to it. We pass by abandoned farms and cross magnificent waterfalls, one even bigger than the other. The walls of the canyon get closer and closer way down below us, the river becomes a wild monster, from one waterfall to the next.

aurlandsdalen-waterfall aurlandsdalen-norway

Half way down the hike we have no clue how far we are. Sure, we have walked 3 hours but are we fast or are we slow? Talking in hours is so relative… There are just a few other hikers on the trail that day but we don’t really see each other, only when taking breaks we sometimes pass and politely greet, but that’s it. Everyone loves their own peace and quiet and nobody wants to share this impressive piece of mother nature with the other folks around.

After 4 hours in the burning sun (yes, we did not only have poor weather this time) our legs are starting to get sore.  Hey, wasn’t this a classified as medium hike? You walk from 840 m. to 70 m. so we figured it was descending only, however there are some fine climbs in the hike that will make your lungs burn for sure. Eventually it turns out we have gained almost 800 meters so that means descending about 1500 meters in one day: a good one on the knees. Some of the waterfalls we cross are gigantic and only have one log walk over, quite the challenge as they are soaking wet and slippery most of the time.

Our last stop is between some old farms. We’re amazed by the idea that people used to live here, so far away from the rest of the world, in a valley that only sees sunshine in spring and summer.

aurlandsdalen-farm aurlandsdalen-canyonview aurlandsdalen-view-trail

The last stretch of the hike takes us back down to the river, across huge boulder fields and eventually through a forest, all the way down to the village of Vassbygdi. Here we catch up with some other hikers. It’s a pleasure to be at our car again, where we get a cold drink from the cafetaria before heading back to our cottage.


Some trekking tips:
– Some people prefer to hike up instead of down. Make sure that the bus is going, otherwise you will have to hike the whole way back as in Østerbro there are no services other than a mountain hut.

– Eventually the hike indeed took us 6 hours. We started at 10.00 am and were back at the car around 16.30 pm. We took at least 3 breaks of 15 minutes each and also took a lot of time to take pictures. So the time given for this hike turned out to be quite accurate.

– Consider staying at Østerbro for a night. We surely would have loved to…

– No food is available along the trail so bring all you need. Water comes from the mountain and is as fresh as you can imagine.

– Even though this hike is medium difficult, a non experienced hiker could consider it difficult. There are some incredibly steep parts but on those there’s mostly a chain you can hold on to. It’s definitely not suitable for someone with a fear of heights.

While discussing the hike on the drive down to our cottage, we both come to the same conclusion: totally unexpected but very much deserved, this hike enters our top 5 best hikes ever.  One day we’ll be back to do the entire trail …

Want to read more about Norway? Then you may like these:
Beautiful Norway: Stryn and Strynsvatn Camping
– Rimstigen: the forgotten hike in Nærøyfjord
– our trip to Norway – in a nutshell
– plog: from Norway to Curaçao


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